The people in India are art conscious since the dawn of Indian civilization so much so that it is difficult to find in this country even the smallest utensil without some decorative element it, or a piece of cloth without some beautiful design even though it is the border, or a wall in a house without some decorative figures, or the floor without some patterns thereon. Even pots and vessels have some decoration in colour or pattern worked on them. Art in some form or the other cannot be missed in everyday life even in the remotest corners of villages.
As art permeated life in ancient India, fine arts wee cultivated as a vinodasthana, pastime. Painting being an easier medium than modeling and sculpture, it was probably ore readily preferred. The Kamasutra mentions painting as one of the several arts cultivated by a nagaraka, a gentleman of taste. His chamber should have a lute (vina) hanging by a peg on the wall, a painting board (chitraphalaka), a casket full of brushes, a beautiful illuminated manuscript and sweet-smelling flower garlands. As recorded in the (chitraphalaka), a casket full of brushes, a beautiful illuminated manuscript and sweet-smelling flower garlands. As recorded in the Harshacharita, the architects, artists and painters, who had decorated the royal palace on the even of the marriage of princess Rajyasri, were shown great respect. This shows the high esteem in which they were held. When they were commissioned to do some work, they were honoured before they started working on any art object.
The earliest extant remains of Mohenjodaro and Harappa and the grandeur
Of Buddhist monuments, Hindu temples and the Mughal architecture point to a legacy of excellence in Indian art. King Asoka, who zealously propagated Buddhism, chose the novel form of architecture. He ordered sanctuaries to suit the needs of ascetics and thus immortalised the traditional dwelling of the Indian sage. In the shaping of these caves, the builders, with chisels and hammers as their main tools, practiced more the craft of sculpture than architecture, The combination of traditional building forms and applied sculpture appealed immensely to the flowering genius of the Indian artist. In course of time, it became the unique essence of all Buddhist and Hindu architecture in India for centuries to come. The caves of Ajanta and Ellora are testimony to the extensive interest in art and sculpture as means to communicate the life and activity of that time.
The Mahayana Buddhists lavished wealth and new artistic activity on the proven media of rock-cut cave architecture. In AD 450, they made numerous additions to the site of Ajanta. These frescoes are examples of how the Indian artist with his sharp eye for detail filled the gap created by the traditional disdain for history writing. All this adds to our information of ancient Indian society. Under circumstances more trying than those faced by Michalengelo a thousand years later, the artists of Ajanta produced a complete and colourful array of everyday life of the leisurely and the wealthy. Carving out caves of Elephanta, which are more like canopies of living rock hanging over generously lit spaces rather than mere tunnels of twilight run into the faces of cliffs as earlier caves had been, shows the ingenuity of Indian artist.
Religious fervour at various times gave rise to the building of numerous temples and mosques all over the county. They diverted the attention of the ever-suffering commoner from his daily woes to promises of a blissful existence through the worship of the expanding Hindu pantheon. The basic concepts of the design of temples and mosques were evolved through the creative activity of master craftsmen. The myriad temples all over India are an eloquent testimony to the dexterity of indefatigable Indian craftsmen who were able to create such beautiful works of art. A remarkable profusion of erotic sculpture on the temple wall sis suggestive of the expressions of the Indian craftsman's love for life in all its aspects. The elaborate and extremely graphic presentation in Khajurraho and Konark temples is not merely restricted to amorous embraces or copulation between men and women, but also includes what progressive terminology would describe as free group sex, and the conservative as downright perverse and degenerate orgies.
Architecture, the long history of which in India is well attested by archaeology and literary references of earlier times, was studied even in the ancient time. It is evident from several books and treatises like the Mayamata, Manasara, etc. Vastuvidya or Science of Building (i.e. Architecture) had been a subject of serious and erudite concern for the Indians. The texts like the Vishnudharmottara, Samarangana-sutradhara, Manasollasa, Aparajitaprichcha, etc., furnish information on, inter alia, different aspects of fine arts including painting. Religious iconography was also codified in detail. The practical applications of expertise in these subjects are demonstrated by archaeological specimens. A great number of illustrated manuscripts demonstrate India's illustrious contribution to the art of miniature painting.
Letters were engraved and sometimes painted on hard substances like rock or stone, metal, ceramic object, brick, terracotta, stucco, etc., and written with pen and ink or stilus and blackening material or even painted with brush or perishable materials like cotton cloth, silk-cloth, leather, bamboo, birch-bark, palm-leaf, etc. Pencils were also used for writing. The vast majority of the known manuscripts of ancient Indian texts are of palm leaves. Pieces of birch-bark were employed in some areas as leaves of manuscript. Paper, the material used for writing in modern times, was probably very rarely utilized in the last phase of ancient India. The scribes sometimes took care to embellish the letters. Early India's calligraphic styles are revealed, inter alia, by a few Brahmi inscriptions from Nagarjunikonda of the century AD. As is well attested by the epigraphs in ancient Indian monuments, India is also known for its fine calligraphy.
Islamic architecture with its diverse grandeur started virtually with the arrival of Akbar on the Indian scene. Humayun had brought back from his exile courtiers and craftsmen brimming with Persian ideas. During Akbar's rule, these were blended with the Hindu and Buddhist traditions into a style as unique as the eclectic personality of Akbar. This is seen in its best inn Humayun's tomb at Delhi, in the numerous structures of Akbar's new capital city at Fatehpur Sikri, and in his own tomb at Sikandra. Akbar's son Jahangir, proved to be a great builder of empire of architecture. He kept alive the traditions of art in his court by bestowing generous patronage on a style of miniature painting. He laid numerous Mughal gardens particularly in his favourite valley of Kashmir. His wife replaced the dignified austerity of Akbar's sandstone architecture with the flamboyance and luster of pure white Makrana marble.
Jahangir's successor Shahjahan, turned out to be a passionate builder and took the traditions of Mughal architecture to their climactic best in the famous Taj Mahal at Agra. The Delhi Fort built by him is studded with exquisite marble pavilions luxuriously embellished and surrounded by gardens and water channels. Jama Masjid, located opposite to the Red Fort, the Taj Mahal and the palaces of Shahjahan proved to be the swansong of Islamic architecture in India.
That tradition came to a close in the nineteenth century. The old feudal order had broken down. The pressures of industrialization had begun to build up in Indian society, and the new British rulers of the country swung between outright contempt for Indian attainments in art and philosophy and a well-meaning but uninformed desire to educate the native in effete Western values of art as represented by the art schools. Bereft of patronage, miniature painting became extinct except in pockets of Pubjab and Rajasthan. Its place was taken, inn succession, by the 'Company painter,' with his portfolio of native characters, birds, and animals rendered in water colour; Ravi Varma's portraits, marked by initiative Anglicism, and his flamboyant re-creation of Indian mythological themes in a Western manner; the pathetic and hybrid products of the art schools; and, finally, born of social and artistic frustration, the revivalist neo-Bengal school of painting.
The neo-Bengal style of painting was a limited and artistically regressive response to the situation prevalent in India in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Historically, it was perhaps inevitable. The prevailing mood in the country was compounded of political subjection, social discrimination by India's British rulers, and spiritual confusion caused by the inroads made into a traditional society by industrialization and an alien system of education. E. B. Havell, the British principal of the Calcutta School of Art, who arrived in India in 1896, set off the artistic response. Havell believed that painting in India must remain Indian in spirit even when it adopted Western techniques of execution. He found his inspiration in Mughal miniature painting, which he thought was in direct line of descent from the idealistic art of the Buddhist and Brahmanical epochs and had the capacity 'to penetrate to the soul of things.' Abanindranath Tagore first gave expression in paint to the new credo. He was followed by a group of other painters who decided to travel even farther back in time for their inspiration, to the forms and colours of Ajanta frescoes of the sixth and seventh centuries. The resulting art as 'too sentimental in conception, weak in drawing and gloomy imagination to come to terms with the reality of its own time.
As W.G. Archer points out in his excellent survey, India and Modern Art (London, 1959), there is a sense in which pictures presuppose pictures and panting feeds upon painting. The dilemma that faced the Indian artist in the three opening decades of the twentieth century was where to look in his tradition for paintings with which his work could meaningfully relate. He needed the sap of living tradition to invigorate his forms and his contemporary perceptions. In its essential feeling, traditional Indian art was an art of joy and adoration. It was a celebrative art that proclaimed the existence of man and his God in a creator-creature unity and exulted in the spirit and the flesh alike. The new social reality, as witnessed by contemporary Western painting, appeared, in contrast, to call for an art of terror and pity, in which denuded forms of simplicity mixed with passionate distortion. To be artistically valid, any response to the new situation must combine a would build upon the past. What Indian art needed was a creative bridge between the old and the new.
Starting around 1928, five major Indian painters helped to shape that bridge, to create an art that is unmistakably Indian yet contemporary. For their idiom of expression they took the metaphors of folk art, the rich forms of Mathura sculpture of the second century AD; the flat planes, hot colours, and simplistic distortions of Jain miniature painting of the thirteenth to sixteenth century and of Basohli painting of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They related then to the techniques of modern Western painting.
The first of the bridge builders, Rabindranath Tagore, was primarily a poet, not a painter. His earliest drawings originated in the erasure of lines of his poetry, the final forms emerging from the random connection of such erasures. Tagore's best work was done between 1928 and 1930. Amrita Shergil received her art education in Paris and formulated her own style of painting through the influence of Cezanne and Gauguin, mixed with that of the Ajanta style. Her greatest pictures, painted in the three year from 1935 to 1937, portrayed the stark and monumental anguish of Indian life. Jamini Roy, the third of the bridge builders, spans the styles of Tagore and Amrita Shergil. His art, from 1928 onward, symbolizes the folk influence on contemporary Indian painting, derived from the traditional pata and Kalighat paintings of Bengal. His favourite subjects are Santal villagers. M.F. Hussain is the last of the bridge builders. He is the harbinger of a new mood in Indian art. The four great painters who preceded Hussain had shown the way. They had grasped a moribund art tradition and, by the sheer force of their personalities, breathed into it a new life. It was left to Hussain to enlarge that life, to give it the authority and flexibility of a new tradition and a whole new language of plastic expression. With Hussain modern art finally arrives in India.
This book, Art and Artists of India, brings to focus the success stories of some such artists. These stories are not essentially the biographical essays in the conventional sense. They are intended to bring to focus the trials and tribulations our artists had to face in their efforts to accomplish their objective, thus giving the message of sincerity, hard work, dedication and the spirit of perseverance to the humanity at large. Their lives point to the need for continued efforts to accomplish our goal. There is no short cut to the path to success. This is their message to us all.
In my efforts to present before you the lives and contributions of all such persons, I have consulted a number of books from various libraries, particularly that of Jamia Milia Islamia University in New Delhi. I am grateful to the University Librarian, Dr Gyas-us-din Maksooni and his staff members for giving me an access to the books. My thanks are also due to Mr. M.K. Kalsi, Export Director of UBS Publishers & Distributors Ltd. Who helped me in having access to some of the books. I would like to thank Rupa & Company for undertaking publication of the series of books on Creative Indians, of which the current book is only one part. My wife, Mrs. Asha Ahuja, also deserves my thanks for cooperating with me in my efforts to concentrate on this project. My thanks are also due to various other people who helped me in one way or the other in any endeavours.
Back of the Book
The frescoes of Ajanta and Ellora, the Hindu temples, and Buddhist and Mughal architecture point to a legacy of excellence in Indian art. The combination of traditional architecture and applied sculpture appealed immensely to the flowering genius of the Indian artists. This book, Eminent Indians: Ten Great Artists, brings to focus the contributions of ten distinguished artists known for bringing new dimension to Indian art, while the preface provides an overview of the development of art in India.
They include Nandlal Bose, an indefatigable artist in his search for form; Amrita Shergil, whose greatest pictures portrayed the stark and monumental anguish of Indian life; Abanindranath Tagore, known for breaking the western mould to restore to Indian art its great tradition; K.C. Aryan, who broke new ground by using metal scraps for shaping two dimensional constructions; Satish Gujral, who is a painter, muralist, sculptor, and architect; Jamini Roy, who endowed his art with an unusual combination of the human and the divine; Goverdhan Lal Joshi, a pioneer of the Renaissance school in Rajasthan; M.F. Husain, the harbinger of a new mood in Indian art; Ganesh Pyne, known for images or archetypes analogous to instincts; and K. Sreenivasulu, who had an absorbing interest in the Andhra landscape, and whose work is symbolic of a new understanding of the nature of man.
Recipient of Janseva Sadbhavana Award, M.L. Ahuja, M,A, DLL, DCS, is the author of over twenty books. He is associated with book publishing and distribution of books. He has travelled extensively both within and outside India. He has presented papers at national and international seminars and has contributed articles in a number of books and journals.
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